Friday 10 to 1: tennis players grace the screen
In the edition of Friday 10 to 1, we take a look at players who have lit up both the big and small screens with roles on TV shows and in movies.
Being individual athletes rather than competitors within a team, tennis players’ unique personalities are better-able to shine, making them among some of the most recognisable and famous athletes in the world. For this reason, many have been able to leverage their star power into roles on television and in the movies, quite often playing themselves. Here’s ten examples of players who have graced either the big or small screens.
10. Martina Navratilova – Will & Grace
American sitcom Will & Grace has enjoyed celebrity guest appearances by the truckload throughout its eight-season history. Among them was women’s legend Martina Navratilova, who appeared in Season 3. Although YouTube only offers the scene in languages other than English – dubbed here in Italian for your viewing pleasure – the gist of the conversation is that Navratilova was straight until being swept off her feet by the outrageous Karen Walker, who breaks Martina’s heart by ultimately choosing to pursue billionaire (and future husband) Stanley Walker.
9. Venus and Serena Williams, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi – The Simpsons
In the 12th season of The Simpsons, the star quartet played themselves (lending their voices to the parts) in a charity exhibition staged by Krusty the Clown – the fictitious Krusty’s Kharity Klassic. After growing tired of pairing with Homer and Marge – given their lack of tennis prowess – the Williams sisters replace the Simpsons with new partners Sampras and Agassi, while the Simpsons are relegated to being spectators.
8. Andy Roddick – Just Go With It
Although his wife Brooklyn Decker stole the show with her performance in 2011 romantic comedy Just Go With It, Andy Roddick got a brief chance to stake his acting claims at the end of the movie. After Decker’s character Palmer is jilted by Danny (played by Adam Sandler), she leaves their holiday in Hawaii and meets Roddick on the flight home, with the two apparently falling in love.
7. John McEnroe – Wimbledon
Wimbledon, a 2004 romantic comedy from the makers of Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary, is a must for tennis buffs. It’s setting at the All England Club and starring actors who received several months of intensive tennis training from Pat Cash, is authentic down to the last detail, including a commentary team featuring Chris Evert and John McEnroe, who can be seen in action in the trailer below.
6. Lleyton Hewitt – Home & Away
Hewitt made his acting debut in April 2005 in Australian soap Home & Away, starring his then-fiancee Bec Cartwright. His role in the TV serial came about reportedly after some humorous comments he made during a 2005 Australian Open interview, in which he revealed it would be fun to play an extra in the show’s central location, the Summer Bay diner. Channel 7 ensured Hewitt’s wish was granted, an experience he said made him more nervous than when he contested the 2002 Wimbledon final.
5. Paradorn Srichaphan – Bang Rajan II
Former world No.9 Thai player Paradorn Srichaphan was a warrior on court and a hero in his homeland, both roles he reprised with aplomb in Bang Rajan II, a 2010 movie about the Siamese Village of Bang Rajan that is invaded by the Burmese Army. Srichaphan, whose character Nai Mun is normally a peaceful, Zen-like figure, sports a ripped physique as goes about protecting his family and village from the Burmese threat. You can see him in action in the movie trailer.
4. Mark Philippoussis – Age of Love
The Aussie, following a career in which he reached the 1998 US Open and 2003 Wimbledon finals, began looking for love by turning to reality TV in 2007 in the NBC series Age of Love. The concept of the show saw women ranging in age – divided into two groups, with women in their 20s known as “kittens” and those in their late 30s and early 40s the “cougars” – competing for the Scud’s affections. Philippoussis would accompany the various women on private dates and in true reality style, one poor, sorry contestant would be eliminated each week. The three finalists even flew to Melbourne to meet his family for the series finale, ultimately won by “kitten” Amanda Salinas.
3. Anna Kournikova – Me Myself & Irene
At the height of her career, Russian beauty Anna Kournikova was among the most searched-for people on Google, and her star quality was what encouraged directors of 2000 comedy Me Myself & Irene, the Farrelly brothers, to cast her in a cameo role as a motel manager. Kournikova would later go on to appear in the 2002 music video for Enrique Iglesias song “Escape”, as well as being as a celebrity trainer for a season of the American version of The Biggest Loser.
2. Leander Paes – Rajdhani Express
Having reportedly been receiving offers to act in Bollywood productions for years, Indian doubles specialist Leander Paes finally agreed, taking on a starring role as a terrorist in the film Rajdhani Express, detailing the story of a train journey from Delhi to Mumbai. Filming of the movie, described as a socio-political thriller, has been delayed due to Paes’ tennis commitments, but is apparently back on track and due for release shortly.
1. Serena Williams – ER, Law & Order and My Wife and Kids
One of the biggest tennis personalities of all seems perfectly suited to a life on screen, and Serena Williams has indeed proved that. The 15-time major winner has made guest appearances in several TV shows, and demonstrated her acting diversity across several genres. She tackles comedy in My Wife and Kids, plays a panicked civilian in ER, and as you can see very briefly in the video below at the 1:26-mark, the role of a suspect in Law and Order. Williams, along with sister Venus, was also this year the star of a documentary that debuted at the Toronto Film Festival.